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#AnythingButSoft: Fueling Efficiently for Softball All Year Long

We ask our bodies to do many challenging things when we play a sport that involves power, agility and speed. When our bodies are properly and consistently fueled well the power, agility and speed that can be produced are optimized. Most athletes realize that good nutrition can assist with their goals, but what they don’t always understand is that poor nutritional choices can hinder goals. Softball players need to consider nutrition all year long (not just “in season”) in order to be the best athlete they can be! 

Let’s walk through each block of the year as it pertains to softball.

Pre-Season

This is typically two months (January and February) of the year when you focus on building strength, increasing endurance, and work on functional training. Sometimes we take this time to indulge in post-holiday sweets or high calorie snack foods because training is not in full swing yet, but this can be a major mistake. Getting a head start on pre-season fueling can set you and your team apart from the competition. If nutrition is a priority in the off-season, then you can begin the season with solid, strong performance instead of still getting the cobwebs out.

Tips: This is the ideal time to increase consumption of lean protein to support improvements in strength, healthy fats to control inflammation and joint mobility, and fruits and vegetables to boost immunity and overall wellness.

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In Season

Practice time is now more frequent, usually a few hours every day. More fuel is required due to an increased training load. This is the ideal time to focus on supporting that training load and to time fueling correctly. This usually entails making sure to eat breakfast, packing not only for lunch during the school day, but two healthy snacks (one for mid-morning and one for before practice) so that you set yourself up for a successful efficient practice. It will make you a better athlete and a better teammate to show up well fueled and ready to play hard than drained, tired, and under-fueled.

Tips: This is the time when increasing complex carbohydrates is important. Carbohydrates such as whole grain pasta, brown rice, oatmeal and quinoa will provide ample energy need to support the many hours at practice and games.

Tournament Season

Summer time brings tournament time! This means warmer weather and more travel. Hydration and fluid balance are crucial to understand and to get a handle on. We also need to be aware of what fuel to pack for travel days along with what/where to eat on the road, since this crucial to athletes and a team’s success during tourney time! Remember to fuel efficiently before each game since tournament days can be long. Solid and consistent fueling will help each player play just as well during the last inning as they did during the first

Tips: Some great fueling options to pack are: bananas (carbohydrate), nonfat plain Greek yogurt (protein and carbohydrate), chicken sandwich (protein and carbohydrate), peanut butter crackers (healthy fat, carbohydrate and protein), quinoa and edamame (carbohydrates and protein). All of these fueling options will provide continued energy for a powerful series of games. And don’t forget the water!

Off Season

Athletes never truly have an off season when it comes to nutrition. While our bodies are resting, recovering, and taking time off from competitive training, it's the perfect time to focus on improving nutritional habits and setting yourself up for success. Think about what you as an individual can do better. Do you skip breakfast? Grab chips and a soda for lunch? Go days without eating a vegetable? Now is the time to work on weaknesses and create healthy habits for the upcoming season. The best athletes are made in the off season! And since fitness is cumulative from season to season this is a golden opportunity to make positive changes. I suggest working with a board certified specialist in sports dietetics if you need some guidance during this time of year. It is often harder to make changes during the competitive season due to the demands of the sport and the game schedule. The off season is a fabulous opportunity to prepare you for success if you want it!

Tips: Focus on consuming a variety of fruits and vegetables so that your body is receiving many different nutrients. Maintain hydration and fluid balance all year long. Work on timing and consistency of fueling so that it’s a habit when the season starts up again. Last but not least, make nutrition a priority and it will pay off when you get back on the field.

Jennifer O'Donnell-Giles, MS RDN CSSD, is a former softball player, coach and parent.

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